The 2011 NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday, with eight first-round series all playing their first game over the weekend. Who do we think will move on? Will there be any upsets? Which series will end quickly, and which will go the distance? SB Nation's trio of NBA writers -- Tom Ziller, Mike Prada and Andrew Sharp -- will be making their picks for each pick in this StoryStream.
Nuggets in 6. Vegas likes Oklahoma City, and many feel they can knock out the Lakers on the way to the Finals. I'm not convinced they can survive Denver, despite two recent OKC wins. The Nuggets' new offensive attack is so powerful from so many angles, and the Thunder's defense hasn't quite put it together. Kendrick Perkins should be a major factor along with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but Denver is deep and excellent.
ANDREW SHARP (link)
It's pretty amazing how much one trade can change. Eight weeks ago, you could make a convincing case that the Denver Nuggets were the most depressing team in the entire league. Selfish, plodding, and completely dysfunctional--every game Carmelo played in Denver this year was equal parts awkward and infuriating.
Then, they sent the "plodding" elements packing ('Melo, Chauncey) and with Gallo and Felton in their place, they became the most enjoyable team in the NBA. Even better, they were good. It's been the feel-good story of the regular season's second half. Unfortunately, unless you have four All-Stars (like those old Detroit teams) it's tough to win an NBA playoff series without a true superstar. Even more unfortunately, the feel-good story of the regular season is about to face the feel-good story of the postseason.
OKC made a big trade, too. With Kendrick Perkins on board, they're suddenly able to guard any team in the league, and with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook firing away on the other end, they can still outscore anyone. Suddenly, they've become a juggernaut.
I love the Nuggets, but this is a horrible matchup for them. Their success depends heavily on wearing teams down in the open floor, and Oklahoma City is the one team that won't work against. Nene is also usually able to win his matchup, but I don't think he can against Kendrick Perkins. Their bench usually has the edge against most teams, but with James Harden playing so well and Eric Maynor being such a key in Oklahoma City's recent win at Denver, I don't think that works here. I expect five competitive games, but the presence of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant late will carry the Thunder in most of them. Thunder in 5.